A teleportation machine might be essential if you want to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the dilithium mining colony on Betazak Nine or conclude a trade agreement for Romulan ale. But back here on earth, do we really need or desire teleporters for our considerably more mundane existences? If we could get places instantaneously, and rid ourselves of travel entirely, would we?
Surprisingly, the answer may be “no.” Research from Patricia L. Mokhtarian and her collaborators, which I’ve been highlighting (here and here) shows that while we might want to cut back on some types of travel in some circumstances, travel itself might have considerable benefits. This is because of the burgeoning number of activities we can do while underway, but even more importantly because of our innate love of aspects of the travel experience itself. These can include adventure, variety, independence, control, status, buffer, escape, conquest, satisfaction of curiosity, the thrill of movement, etc.
Mokhtarian and her coauthors conducted? a survey in the San Francisco Bay area, and in a pair of papers (this one with Ilan Salomon and this with David T. Ory) examined the extent to which people like to travel and why.
Overall, most respondents possessed personality characteristics that we might hypothesize would contribute to a love of travel. Over 90 percent of the sample described themselves as being variety seekers (at least to a moderate degree), almost 90 percent called themselves at least somewhat adventurous, and 80 percent disagreed with the characterization that they like to stay close to home. Two-thirds agreed in whole or in part with the statement that they like to travel at high speeds. Fahrvergnügen, anyone?
Overall, even when instructed to ignore the benefits they get from arriving at their destinations, over 30 percent of the sample said they actually like short-distance travel (under 100 miles), versus only a little over ten percent who reported that they dislike it (the rest were neutral).
More than half of the respondents reported that at least sometimes they travel out of their way to take in scenery and new surroundings, explore new places, relax or just have fun. Over half admitted traveling more than strictly necessary, just for the enjoyment of it. On the other hand, there does seem to be a limit to wanderlust; few respondents reported that they travel without an ultimate destination in mind.
Almost half of the sample disagreed with the statement that travel time is generally wasted time. More than a third reported their commute trip serves a useful function, both because of things they get done on the trip and the trip’s psychological value as transition time. More than two-thirds disagreed with the statement that “the only good thing about traveling is arriving at your destination.” Nearly half agreed that “getting there is half the fun.”
The bottom line? Over 60 percent reported being happy with the amount they travel in their lives, with almost 10 percent wishing they spent more time traveling. Forget the teleporter; for those folks, should we bring back the horse and buggy?
As for attitudes towards specific travel modes, do you want the good news or the bad news? Okay, here’s the good news: the most popular form of travel was green and healthy walking/jogging/cycling, with an approval rating of over 60 percent.
Depending on your point of view, you may or may not find it heartening that private vehicle travel was a close second, with almost 60 percent saying they enjoy it.
And the bad news, at least for many of you out there? Only about 30 percent of the sample reported a liking for train/subway/light rail travel, and not even ten percent said they like traveling by bus. These numbers are sobering if you believe – like many transportation professionals, elected officials and others – that luring people onto mass transit is a key to solving our transportation problems. More on the public’s curious schizophrenia about mass transit (most laypeople that I speak to strongly support it – and would virtually never dream of riding it) another time.
Those with long commutes enjoy travel less than those with shorter commutes. In a sense, this goes counter to what we might expect; presumably, people who enjoy travel should choose work and home locations that are farther apart.
However, this finding might fit with an intriguing but controversial theory in transportation: that of the universal constant travel time budget. According to this hypothesis, we humans are somehow programmed to travel a certain amount of time per day – very roughly, about one hour. When this target is violated in either direction, we supposedly change our activity patterns to bring our travel budget into harmony with our primal needs.
Is the stuff you do merely froth on the ocean, dictated by the powerful undercurrent of your need to get to it? More on this from Mokhtarian and collaborator Cynthia Chen next time.